You’d think after all these years of travelling the world would start to wow me less. Not so. I am constantly astonished by the amazing places we can see and visit – like the Isle of Skye. I had just one day on the Isle of Skye, but it totally took my breath away. So, if you are planning a day tour to the Isle of Skye (or just wondering if it’s possible), here’s everything you need to know.
In this guide, you’ll find all the important stuff from how to get around Skye to what to see (hint: that’s the most fun bit).
If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments and I’ll get back to you. Or, if you’ve spent a day on Skye and have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them!
Can you visit the Isle of Skye in 1 day?
The Isle of Skye is a very popular tourist hotspot – this much is clear from the pretty endless stream of campervans and caravans heading over the bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh.
Many lucky visitors spend days or even a week on the island – lucky them! However, not all of us have the luxury of oodles of time (or money) to spend on the Isle of Skye.
This means plenty of people wonder if it’s possible to see Skye in one day.
The short answer: yes!
The all-important qualifier: as long as you’re not too far away from the island to begin with.
The killer for visiting the Isle of Skye is the getting there from the “Lowlands”. Glasgow and Edinburgh are both five and a half hours from the Isle of Skye. While I suppose it would be technically possible to do this in a day (if you’re way better at getting up early than I am), I wouldn’t recommend it.
However, if you’re already in the Highlands things are a lot more do-able. Ideally, if you can plan a night before or after on Skye, that will give you a good chunk of time – but you can get there and back from somewhere like Inverness.
Obviously, it’s not going to be an in-depth discovery of the island. Skye is pretty big, and there’s heaps to do.
That said, I spent only a full day on Skye and I felt like I got a pretty good taster. We checked out the main highlights, and spent a few great hours driving around taking in the scenery.
So, don’t be put off by those who say it’s not possible to do the Isle of Skye in a day – it totally is, as long as you’re realistic in your expectations.
Practical information for one day on the Isle of Skye
Yay, logistics! Here are some commonly asked questions and my main tips for a day trip to the Isle of Skye.
When is the best time to visit the Isle of Skye?
While I’ve stressed it’s popular to do a day tour to the Isle of Skye, the one thing I’d warn you about is the weather. It definitely has the power to put a dampener (pun intended) on your fabulous Skye travel plans.
The Isle of Skye is incredibly rainy and cold. I mean, it has to be – it’s so freaking beautiful that if it had a better climate no-one would ever leave. The terrible weather keeps the masses at bay!
We visited during August, aka the “height of summer”. It was cold and rained. Luckily, the rain took frequent breaks that just happened to coincide with our outdoor activities.
Ideally, if you have a few days to choose from then I’d check the forecast and plan accordingly. Otherwise, if you have to roll the dice – I advise leaving some flexibility in your itinerary so you can change your plans depending on the weather.
For example, I have been told that hiking to the Old Man of Storr (my favourite thing on the Isle of Skye) is pretty useless in the dense fog. No one wants to hike up a mountain only to see, well, nothing at all. Luckily you could always opt for a whisky distillery instead. (Booze saves the day!)
If you’ve got flexibility with when you visit Skye, then I would highly recommend aiming for the warmer months between May and September. I say warmer, not warm, because it’s still cold. It’s also drier (not dry).
The most important thing though is that the days are long. When we visited, the sun was up between about 6.30am and 8:00pm. That’s a lot of time for adventuring!
By contrast, January on Skye is freezing, you’re likely to get drenched, and there are only a few hours of light every day. That’s not to say you can’t visit – I’m sure Skye is beautiful in the moody winter – but it wouldn’t be my pick.
Getting around the Isle of Skye
You’ve got a few options for how to get around the Isle of Skye for your day trip.
Take a tour
If you’re not confident driving in Scotland/don’t have access (funds) to a vehicle, then I highly recommend taking a tour. There are lots of companies that organise Skye tours – from budget-friendly backpacker tours to ultra-luxe private options.
The great thing about a tour is you don’t have to worry about the winding roads or getting lost, which maximises the amount of time sightseeing.
I travelled to Skye with Haggis Adventures’ Skye High tour (see my review here), but that is technically a three day tour – albeit with one day on Skye.
A number of other companies do simple one day tours from Inverness. Here are a few options:
You can easily self-drive around the Isle of Skye if you’re not a scaredy cat like I am. You’ll pass hundreds of others on self-drive tours of the Isle of Skye, and the roads are in pretty good nick.
The great thing about driving yourself is that it gives you total flexibility to see the Isle of Skye. You’ll be able to spend as little – or as much – time at each stop, and totally skip over some if they don’t quite suit you.
Getting to Skye by car is really easy, as there is a bridge. Once upon a time it was a toll bridge (much to the DISGUST of the Scots) but nowadays it is totally free. Happy days!
There are a couple of downsides about driving in Skye, however. The first is parking. It is often scarce or expensive, or both. While some attractins (like the Fairy Pools) have their own large car parks, others (like the Old Man of Storr) just have roadside parking.
For this reason, I recommend getting to the popular hotspots first, so you don’t end up driving in circles, cursing other motorists. To be fair, this may still happen.
While it is technically possible to get around Skye without a vehicle, I would not recommend it. You could get a bus to Portree and then use that as a base for hikes nearby, and I did run into a lady who was hitch-hiking around the island.
However, with a day on Skye I do not think this is a feasible approach. You’ll spend way too much time trying to get from one place to another, as public transport is unreliable and doesn’t go to the main places.
If you don’t have a vehicle, I’d either recommend exploring a city like Edinburgh or even Inverness instead, or alternatively I think you’ll need more than a day on Skye.
What do you need to bring for a day on the Isle of Skye?
As an Australian, I do not generally put a lot of thought into what to bring places. You can wear the same thing about 300 days of the year, and wild weather isn’t really a concern.
Not the case on Skye.
To enjoy your trip, make sure you bring something to combat the weather – a waterproof jacket or umbrella or both.
If you’re planning on doing any hiking (say to the Fairy Pools or the Old Man of Storr), then I recommend bringing some decent shoes. I just wore plain sneakers, which were okay, but I really wished I’d brought more solid boots when I was slip-sliding in the mud. Holding my camera aloft out of sheer desperation.
Now there’s a mental picture for you!
Where to stay overnight on the Isle of Skye
As mentioned, it’s certainly possible to day trip to the Isle of Skye from Inverness, meaning you won’t need to stay on the island.
However, if you can, I do recommend staying over one night. Those extra few hours that you gain by not commuting to/from another location will add a lot to your Skye day trip.
One super cool thing about Scotland is YOU CAN CAMP FOR FREE ANYWHERE YOU LIKE. Seriously! How amazing is that? There is the Scottish principle of “the right to roam” so if you’ve got a tent and a semblance of common sense, you can pitch your tent just about anywhere.
Ironically, there are few places with worse weather for camping than Skye. So, if you’d rather a warm bed but you’re still on a budget, I recommend going for one of the hostels on the island. Most of them are scattered around Portree, the largest town on Skye.
We stayed at Portree Independent Hostel, which was like going back in time thirty years. They even have a VHS video collection (if anyone reading this doesn’t know what a VHS is, I am official O.L.D.)
That said, it was all kind of charming and within easy reach of a) some pubs and b) a really cheap and delicious bakery, so I do recommend it.
If you’re not the hostel type (yeah, fair enough), then there are tons of great options to stay in Portree and around. Search for hotels in Portree here.
What to see on the Isle of Skye in a day
There are so many great options for what to do on Skye in a day. Here are my main picks, which can all be seen in a day without two much rushing between them.
Eilean Donan Castle
The McRae castle! Fun story – when I was a kid, I was told there was a castle in the family in Scotland. Having watched the Princess Diaries too many times, I thought this meant one day I would leave boring Adelaide and go live in said castle.
Sadly, I was to discover that not only am I not entitled to live in the castle, but I even have to pay an entry fee to look at it! Oh, the injustice!
Anyway, injustices aside, the Eilean Donan Castle is one of Scotland’s most famous sites and the country’s most photographed castle. (Another tangent: does anyone know how they calculate that?)
It’s a beautiful old castle that stands at the meeting point of several lochs. The castle dates back from around the 13th century. However, it was destroyed after the Jacobite Uprisings and remained in ruins until around 1920.
(Shameless self promotion! If you’re interested in hearing more about this history, have a read of this post.)
Technically, the Eilean Donan Castle is not on Skye – it’s just before you cross the bridge to get to it. However, it’s so close that it’s a very easy addition to your day on Skye itinerary.
A couple of tips for visiting the castle: firstly, if you’re hoping to photograph it, I recommend going in the morning when the sun is in a better spot than the afternoon. My picture was taken at 4pm in the ‘arvo and I’m not thrilled with it.
Second, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend going in the castle. Since you’re probably short on time doing a Skye day trip, I’d recommend just looking at it from outside. The inside is really not that interesting, especially if you’ve visited any other castles/rich people mansions.
Old Man of Storr
As long as the weather is reasonable, I highly recommend a visit to the Old Man of Storr. It’s one of the most popular attractions on the Isle of Skye, because it’s just stupidly beautiful.
There’s also a fun legend about how it came to be (which involves fairies, because every fun legend on Skye involves fairies!)
You can see the main rock from the road from Portree, and some tours just do a quick glance as you go past.
If you possibly can, then I highly recommend hiking to the rock.
I know, I know – who am I, and what have I done with Georgie? It seems since I hiked to Morskie Oko in Zakopane I’m a changed woman. There’s no hike I can’t conquer!
In all honesty, though, the hike is pretty easy, especially if you take it slow-ish. Without stopping the hike takes about 1.5 hours, but I’d leave at least 2 hours so that you can stop for lots of pictures. Lots and lots of pictures.
The rock is cool but personally I was just all about the mesmerising views on the way up. They are so beautiful that I could have cried just looking at them. (I am an overly emotional person, but still…)
One note: if the weather is bad (rainy or foggy) then I understand there’s pretty much no view. You can still do the hike if you want, but I wouldn’t personally.
There is paid parking on the side of the road near the entrance. I’d recommend getting there early as by around 11am when I finished the hike, it was incredibly busy.
Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls
Worth a short stop is Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls, which are not far away from the Old Man of Storr hike.
The rock is famous because – you guessed it! – the rock formation resembles the famous Scottish kilt. Personally, I didn’t really see the resemblance (oh, controversial!) but it is a pretty rock and view.
There’s also Mealt Falls, which are very impressive. It’s a long vertical drop of 60m, and the water rushes over the edge with amazing power. Since it rains basically all of the time on the Isle of Skye, chances are you’ll see it in all its glory.
Once you’ve seen Kilt Rock, I recommend turning around in the other direction and looking at the coast from that side. That’s where the photo above is taken, and it’s super beautiful.
Another stop I highly recommend for your day on Skye is a stop at the Fairy Pools. Honestly, I could have stayed at the Fairy Pools for hours and hours, but we only had an hour there in the end.
Located in Glen Brittle, they are a series of pools and mini-waterfalls. As a romantic/day dreamer, they are totally magic – although the hordes of screaming kids kind of cut through the romance.
The walk past all the Fairy Pools is about a kilometre and a half. For the most part, the condition of the path is pretty good. That said, there are two sections where you need to walk over stones through a slow river – one is easy, the other is a little more difficult.
You are welcome to swim in the fairy pools, and lots of people do. Personally, I am a bad swimmer and always climb out looking like a drowned rat, so I didn’t do it myself. Also it was cold. But if you are less of a cry baby than I am, go for it!
What I did really enjoy was photographing the Fairy Pools. With all the interesting rock formations, towering mountains and glimmering pools, they’re kind of a photographer’s dream. (Word to the wise: bring a Neutral Density (ND) filter to get some cool long exposure shots. I didn’t, and will regret it ‘til the day I die.)
There’s a big car park opposite the Fairy Pools so as long as you’re vehicle has more than 30 people in it, it’s easy to park.
If the weather gets bad during your stay on Skye, don’t despair. It’s no wonder that whisky (there’s no ‘e’, folks!) is so popular in Scotland – it’s kind of the perfect accompaniment to the climate.
There are only two distilleries on Skye, with a third scheduled to open soon allegedly. The most famous of the two is Talisker Whisky.
Now, I’ve got to admit that I’m not much of a whisky fan – wine has my whole heart and I don’t see that changing any time soon. However, it is really interesting to find out more about whisky, even if the taste isn’t right up your alley.
Talisker Whisky is known to be really strong and peaty (smoky). You know, the kind of drink you sip while reading important paperwork at your mahogany desk. If you like that kind of thing, you’re sure to love it!
If not, it’s still a fun stop on the Isle of Skye, especially if it’s cold and miserable.
Those are my main recommendations for one day on the Isle of Skye. However, there are some alternatives if these ones just don’t do it for you. Here are a few:
- Go the beach: so the weather didn’t have me rushing for the seaside, but it could do for you! Skye has lots of sandy beaches including Talisker Beach, Camas Daraich (p, Braes Beach and Camas Ban (near Portree).
- Dun Beag: a small, ancient fort which is the best preserved of about fifty “brochs” on the Isle of Skye in total.
- Sornaichean Coir’ Fhinn – a pair of moss-covered standing stones that overlook the sea. Creepy? Cool? You can decide!
- Dunvegan Castle – I can’t be too complimentary of this castle, as it’s occupied by the MacLeod clan and I am a McRae (don’t you just love pointless rivalries). But I’ll be honest just for you guys: it is pretty gorgeous.
- Skye Museum of Island Life – a great idea if the weather is bad and you’re looking for something to do indoors. Tells you a lot about life on Skye in days past.
- Spar Cave – a pretty amazing cave you can visit and explore… or so I hear, since I’ve sworn off caves since the terrifying Thai cave rescue!
- Rha Waterfall – want a waterfall that’s a bit away from the crowds? It’s a little harder to get to, but it’s very beautiful.
Tips for visiting Skye in a day
- Skye is a photographer’s paradise. Yes, that expression is madly overused by travel writers – but it is, so it’s staying. If you have even a little interest in photography, you’re sure to love it. You can get some great shots with an iPhone, however if you do bring a DSLR then I highly recommend bringing along a tripod, a circular polarising filter and preferably an ND filter so you can get some amazing snaps.
- Things on Skye are not particularly cheap, so if you’re on a budget I recommend bringing your own supplies to have a simple lunch or dinner. The Portree Independent Hostel has a huge kitchen, so it’s easy to do. There’s also the McKenzie Bakery to the left of the hostel, which does delicious and incredibly cheap food. Just don’t expect any vegetables.
- If you are planning to take advantage of Scotland’s “right to roam” (yesss!) be sensible. You are even allowed on private land, but don’t get too close to houses. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of space on Skye so that shouldn’t be an issue. Also, don’t get too close to the cliff-edge, no matter how tempting it is: rock falls and strong winds are common.
- Also take basic safety precautions for hiking! If you’ve ever watched Unsolved Mysteries (or, like, seven seasons of it like I have) you’ll know that hiking can be bad news. It’s best to go in a group, but if you can’t, make sure people know where you are, that you stick to the paths and bring proper supplies (including water and warm clothes.)
- Over 30% of the population of the Isle of Skye speak Gaelic. You will absolutely not be expected to speak it, but do keep your ear out for it as its an interesting language and evidence of the thriving Highlander culture!